ABUJA OYINBO: Tales From Abuja Taxi Life
Ah, the taxis I have taken since arriving in Nigeria and the stories they have given me. What a delight… mostly. Some days you’ll be thrilled you happened to flag down the guy who is listening to the best possible mix of the latest tunes, other days you’ll be wondering what on earth you must have done in a previous life to deserve the bone-shaking coming your way.
Here are some things I enjoy about taxi life in Abuja.
1. The realisation that (almost) every car is a taxi.
Is it green? No. Does it have a number painted on the side? No. Is it a taxi? For N300 to drive a few hundred metres, there’s no reason why not. One chance to take the oyinbo to the supermarket: it’s not exciting, but I get to the shops and the driver of the non-taxi has a bit of cash. Perhaps the more cautious foreign missions wouldn’t recommend getting in any old car when the driver beeps at you, but for my money this is one of Abuja’s more useful and efficient features.
2. The day I was offered a lift to work in a digger.
There was certainly space and everyone looked very friendly, but I wasn’t convinced of the benefits to my work clothes of arriving to teach a class of four year olds looking, well, like I’d come to work in a digger. I declined politely.
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3. The endless football conversations.
As a Chelsea fan I am well catered for among the Abuja cabbie fraternity – a rough survey would suggest maybe one in every four or five taxi drivers believes blue is the colour. Things get trickier when my husband—a fan of the long suffering and less popular in Nigeria Newcastle United—is in the car. “NO, NEWCASTLE, NOT MAN UNITED, NOT CHELSEA” is perhaps his most commonly used in-taxi sentence.
4. The occasional political conversations.
Of course, these come about, especially at election time and also because I have never known a country as political as Nigeria. What I don’t understand is how some cab drivers seem to approach political affiliation as less about conviction and more about decoration: a row of alternate APC AND PDP flags waving on the windscreen – are you sure? Hey, at least no
one could accuse you of being apathetic.
5. The ability to drive something that was once a car.
You have no wing mirrors, you have no rear view mirror. There are transfers of birds obscuring the view from the rear windscreen. Somehow, the interior has been removed and no doubt repurposed for… something. Somehow, the footwells are just not there and there are occasional slightly worrying glimpses of the ground. But the metal box on wheels is still trucking on. I wouldn’t take this taxi to Timbuktu, but for the testing voyage between Maitama and Wuse II, it’ll do.
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6. The occasional oyinbo taxi driver.
The swishest accidental taxi I had in Abuja was a super smart BMW driven by a delightful European oil executive. Aware of his company’s warnings about wandering around Abuja late at night, he saw us weaving our way home from a party and, thinking we might be lost or in trouble, offered us a lift. It took a while to convince him we were fine and often walk about of an evening.
7. Fighting the oyinbo premium.
I understand why Nigerian friends don’t like me standing next to them when they’re flagging cabs and I accept I might pay a little more for my taxi fares than most: it’s fine so long as it’s not flagrant price gouging. The drivers who try N1000 for a five-minute ride assuming we’re JJC? Abeg. The driver who tried to stick a N1000 AC fee onto his N1000 fare at the end of the ride having not mentioned it before? Not a hope we’ll pay, not that it stopped him sitting outside the house for half an hour after he dropped us home. These face offs are good; British people are famously hopeless at haggling, so it’s all useful training.
8. The economic insights gained from taking taxis.
Fuel crisis? An extra N200 on the fare for us. No fuel crisis, no petrol wahala supplement. In mango season I had so much fruit I paid a couple of cab fares in cash plus mangoes, but a few months into the mango madness I couldn’t give them away even to the friendliest cabbie, so great was a surplus. There’s valuable intelligence in what taxi life teaches you about market forces.